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The Garden Scoop

Native Rose Vervain adds color and blooms to your garden

Rose vervain.

From time to time, there is a plant you may stumble across and bring home to try in the garden that far exceeds expectations and becomes a new “favorite.”  Rose vervain (Glandularia canadensis), also commonly referred to as rose verbena, has played that role in our garden space in the last several years.  Its abundance of purple flowers, interesting foliage, and long season of blooms combine to make it an ideal perennial for many garden settings. 

An unfamiliar native

Several years ago, my wife brought this plant home from a local nursery after recognizing it was a native species and admiring its floriferous display.  Even as a tiny potted plant, it had a canopy of purple blooms, drawing attention and providing a hint of its season-long beauty. 

Being a somewhat rare native plant in Illinois, I had not observed it in the wild or knew much about it at all, but I was excited to try a new native in our garden space.  At the time, we had just expanded a bed near our driveway, and there was ample space for new plants.  So, we planted front and center, in a place where we passed daily. 

Over the first few growing seasons, I just couldn’t stop admiring it and probably asked my wife a dozen times to remind me the name of this spectacular little plant. It almost became a joke asking, “What’s that new native by the driveway?”. 

How it fits in the garden

Beyond its numerous flowers, I’ve enjoyed this plant due to its compact size.  It rarely reaches much over one foot tall, even when you account for the clusters of blooms that extend above the canopy of creeping foliage.  It’s a great plant for the front edge of a bed or along a rock wall.   I’ve seen it used as a stand-alone ground cover in some settings, creating a carpet of purple-pink blooms.

Rose vervain is a sprawling plant with lower stems that stretch out horizontally, forming roots where nodes touch the soil.  I really like this growth habit, as the darker green, low-growing foliage nicely frames the flower clusters that extend upward. 

It does spread to form a patch, but its growth can easily be contained by hand pulling the edges in spring or simply digging up and transplanting the stems near the edge. Although it roots via the nodes, stems at the edge of the patch are shallowly rooted and can be pulled or transplanted easily.  In our garden, it's not an aggressively spreading plant that threatens its neighbors, but rather, it quietly fills its space and blocks out weeds.

Flowers emerge in a dome-shaped structure and gradually expand to a flat-topped cluster at the upper tips of stems.  The tubular flowers remind me of woodland phlox in both shape and color, although rose vervain is more pink than the light purple of phlox.  They both seem to start their bloom period around the same time each spring.  Throughout summer, the blooms on rose vervain wane a bit and become sparser but it continues well into the heat of August, with some lingering flowers later in the season.

A favorite of pollinators 

The flowers are attractive to butterflies, skippers, and long-tongued bees seeking nectar.  Since it does take some specialization to reach the nectaries deep in each flower's tubular corolla, this isn’t a plant that is swarming with pollinator activity, but it does draw notable attention from butterflies.

Rose vervain is quite adaptable, flourishing in full sun but certainly tolerant of some shade. It’s a low-maintenance plant, thriving in dry conditions and adaptable to poor soil. In nature, it occurs in prairies, glades, and along rocky bluffs, gaining a competitive advantage in dry locations with low fertility. 

Locally, I’ve observed this plant at the Loda Prairie in Iroquois County, which is a high-quality remnant prairie with excellent soils.  It's truly an adaptable species, tolerating some shade as a low-growing plant in dense prairies like Loda.  Poor drainage or full shade are perhaps its only weakness.   

If you are looking for a new pop of low-growing color in your garden, consider adding rose vervain. While it's not as common as some in the garden center, it’s a pleasant surprise if you can find it, and it will certainly perform well in the garden. 

Photo caption:  Rose vervain is a spectacular native plant offering a season full of low-maintenance blooms in the garden. Photo by Ryan Pankau.